Even though the show is titled Circles, there are no soft, rounded edges in Lisa Harris' new play, at the Bootleg Theater in Westlake. Everything is spiky, each sentence jabbing and opening new wounds. It's the kind of show that makes you want to run far, far away from a committed relationship, an antidote to the trite love stories for sale in Hollywood.
Circles follows a woman (Harris) and a man (Blake Adams) who are living together and in a somewhat successful relationship. As the play opens, the woman is suspicious that the man is cheating on her, and she starts poking and prying, trying to discern the situation. They fight, pushing each other's buttons and driving one another to the point of exhaustion, trying to see who will break down first. It's ugly, and it's hard to watch, but not in a cathartic way. It's more of a "when will this be over?" way — which is surprising, given the show's 75-minute runtime.
The problem stems from the inherent unlikability of the two characters. While there are plenty of stories with unsympathetic protagonists (such as Gone Girl), there's usually something compelling about the story being told that keeps the audience's attention rapt. In Circles, the problem isn't that the stakes are too low — infidelity is inherently interesting — but that the story treads no new ground. The woman is shrewish, almost to the point that, if the playwright were male, he'd be accused of sexism. The man doesn't have much to recommend him as a person, either.
Harris may be trying to say that these two deserve each other, but that message (or whatever the overall message of the story is) gets muddled in the telling. The play just shoves all that negativity at the audience without any moral to the story. The night becomes an exercise in schadenfreude, a reminder that at least your relationship (or lack thereof, if you're single) isn't so bad. There's nothing enjoyable about watching two strangers break up, and that's the crux of the problem for Circles.
Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Westlake; through March 28. (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.org.
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